Always passionate about scent’s unique ability to subconsciously effect mood, motivation, emotion and memory, in this CONTENT exclusive, Frances Shoemack – the brains behind one of the world’s first 100% natural perfumes shares with us her passions, inspirations and journey into the world of aroma. A firm believer that natural fragrance should not compromise hedonism, Shoemack is a fresh talent in the world of natural scent. Read on for an exclusive interview and find out why we love the new collection.
What was the catalyst that ignited your passion for natural fragrance?
When I was a teenager, I looked at studying both wine-making and perfumery. Trying to get from rural South Island New Zealand to Paris or Milan to study perfumery seemed a little out of reach! So I found myself immersed in the world of wine-making – a career that intersected my interest in smells, nature, science and creativity. A decade later following a move to Amsterdam and still a perfume lover, I was aware that perfume was the one thing in my bathroom cabinet that ‘let the team down’. With a farmer father and yoga teacher mother, I’ve always been holistic in my approach to wellbeing and this has only increased as I got older, extending to organic food and beauty where possible. So, unable to find an organic perfume that smelt and looked great, I revisited my childhood dream and started to investigate whether I could combine my love of smells and desire for organic solutions to create, what we think now is the world’s first 100% organic perfume.
Your previous life was spent in vineyards, did you find any similarities between the worlds of fine wine and perfume?
Yes, there are loads! From the roots deeply entrenched in French culture, to the romance and passion inspired by the olfactory experience. Interestingly, it was the similarities that drove my interest in both, but it’s the differences that have actually been more profound throughout our journey with Abel! In wine-making, the vineyard is king and the best wines are still produced using the best grapes, from the most carefully nurtured vineyards on the best sites – a formula that hasn’t changed in many centuries. With perfume it’s different – you start from scratch and develop a perfume to meet a creative vision – combining the ingredients you need and perfecting it as you go over many trials. Modern perfumers have a palate of over 3000 (mainly) synthetic ingredients from which to build that vision. Sometimes these synthetics have been created to replace natural ingredients (i.e. synthetic musk, to replace natural musk that used to be taken from the gland of the make deer), sometimes they are to created to smell like notes that never existed in nature (i.e. burnt rubber!). In creating Vintage ’13, we were limited to a palate of organic ingredients (much smaller even, than a palate of natural ingredients). So like wine-making, it again became about the quality of the individual organic ingredients – we compared sandalwood from Australia, with its fragrant eucalyptus notes, to sandalwood from East India, with its rich warmth. Working with natural ingredients is different to synthetics in many ways, not least that we are subject to limited supply and seasonal variation (we can’t just replicate the note in a laboratory). The philosophy behind our ‘Vintage’ fragrance is that each time we bottle, we will release a new ‘Vintage’ – much like a vintage Champagne, showcasing the seasonal nuance of that year’s vintage.
You worked with a perfumer to create Vintage 13, what did this process consist of?
I realised that if we were to create a fragrance (organic or not), that stood up alongside the world’s best perfumes, we should seek out a fine fragrance perfumer (or ‘Nose’ as they are called) that could bring this vision to reality. There are only 500 trained perfumers in the world (they are rarer than astronauts!). When I set out to find a perfumer who understood what we were trying to achieve, I came across fellow New Zealander and Nose Isaac Sinclair who is living and working as a fine fragrance perfumer in Sao Paulo. When I saw a youtube video of Isaac talking about smells – the nostalgia, the emotion – and how perfume is like wine, I knew I’d found our guy! What I didn’t know at the time was that Isaac works for one of the ‘big five’ fragrance and flavours houses who produce almost all of the world’s perfumes (among other things!). I didn’t want to work with layers of account managers and big multinational structure, so instead I targeted Isaac direct with our plight. For Isaac it was a rare opportunity to create a standout fragrance using only the best organic ingredients and he was extremely excited from the outset. We worked together under the radar and one-on-one for many months – Isaac sending his latest samples to me and us spending hours on Skype smelling and debating! When we had a fragrance we were really happy with, we then bought the suits involved to help with the logistics!
How would you describe Vintage 13?
We like to say Vintage ’13 is not for every man or woman – and it’s true! It’s a stand out scent, that wasn’t created to suit the majority. The top notes of clove, black pepper and bergamot are both surprising and alluring. I’ve had it described to me as a comforting cloak of familiarity and nostalgia – which I loved! The sandalwood dry down is sensuous and warm – as masculine on men as it is sultry on woman. For me, Vintage ’13 is that feeling of cuddling up on the couch with great company, a glass of red wine in hand, Van Morrison on the speakers and a night of relaxing ahead!
Who wears Vintage ‘13?
The Abel wearer is someone who sees through the allure of mass market, mass-produced, over advertised rubbish, while at the same time, questioning why things can’t be both sustainable and stylish. He/She doesn’t like to compromise! He/She is someone who is beginning to understand and be aware of the impact of our life and lifestyle – on ourselves, our planet (including its inhabitants) and future generations. Because of this awareness, he/she likes to make choice-full decisions on how they fit into this picture, what their own personal stance and responsibility is, what the effects of the things they buy and consume, are. They believe it’s the little things that count and try to live their life in a way that they are proud of.
Why was it important for you to choose organic ingredients?
In an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter – natural and organic would mean the same thing! However unfortunately it’s just not the case – natural ingredients can be produced in the most unnatural manner! Organic certification of the growing and manufacturing process guarantees the ingredients are produced without the use of harmful chemicals and toxins. If we didn’t want to use these chemicals in the actual perfume, why would we want the perfume ingredients to be grown on a diet of them?! Organic certification also guarantees ethical trade, sustainable farming practices and no use of animal testing or products – all things I strongly believe in.
Scent is often linked to memory – let us in on a memory of yours that you have found scent to trigger?
It’s so true! The smoky freshness of an open fire on a cold evening takes me straight back to my family home with our large family (I’m one of 6 children) crowded around, perhaps drying our hair after an evening bath! I’ve never had an open fire in all my adult life, so when I come across one, it’s a distinctly childhood trigger for me. Another one that I’m sure any New Zealander would relate to, is Spring’s first scent of freshly cut grass and the feeling of an impending long summer ahead.
What is your all time favourite natural scent? (this could be a particular flower, a single note, etc.)
Grapefruit. My grandparents had this amazing yellow grapefruit tree (I can only ever find pink grapefruit in Amsterdam!) that we used to pick grapefruit from as children and devour with the tiniest drizzle of honey – delicious! We are currently working on our second fragrance (watch this space), and grapefruit was a note I desperately wanted to include. I was devastated when our search for good quality organic grapefruit oil came up dry. Next step… to convince a quality grapefruit oil producer to go organic!
Do you have any personal tips for using scent to alter your mood/state of being?
I’ve always been a great sleeper, but since I’ve been pregnant I can no longer guarantee a solid nights sleep which I’ve found a little frustrating! (I have a new found appreciation for people who suffer insomnia.) I’ve been using a drop of lavender oil on a handkerchief under my pillow at night and it’s definitely helped with calming me and getting me back to sleep quickly when I wake with multiple bathroom visits or more recently, to roll over!
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